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Effective Online Communication

In an online learning environment, most interaction is conducted via electronic communication.  The most common forms are bulletin boards, discussion boards, email, chat, phone, and fax. In the future it may become more common to interact through emerging desktop videoconferencing technologies.  The current commonly used technologies are centered around the written word.  It is expected that greater use will be made of audio and video means of communication as soon as bandwidth issues are resolved.  There are many things to think about as we learn about electronic communication. Here are some of them:

  • When the communication takes place asynchronously, there is more time to think about what you want to say than in real time classroom discussion.
  •  There is a permanent transcript of the communication which provides a record that can be re-read at a later time.
  • You may be in class with students from all over the world which provides opportunities to learn about people from other cultures. 
  • Communicating electronically sometimes levels the playing field because we donít always know the demographics of those with whom we are communicating. The opportunities for interacting with the ideas a person presents without awareness of age, gender, nationality, physical and mental disabilities and other physical characteristics sometimes allows us to deal with the ideas presented in a more pure form than when we are aware of these characteristics.
  • Interacting without the benefit of non-verbal cues, especially voice intonation, creates the potential for misunderstanding.  It becomes essential that electronic communications incorporate elements of kindness and concern for the other person.  This might not be as important in face-to-face interaction.  Take a look as these online resources for more information about courteous online communication which is commonly referred to as "Netiquette."
  • Some online courses expect all participants to contribute to the development of knowledge by contributing to a discussion board or forum.  This often results in a strong sense of community among those that actively participate.
  • This form of communication relies heavily on writing skills.  Clarity and brevity are generally valued.

Examples of electronic communication methods and some possible uses in online courses

List-serve is a mail list of specific individuals who regularly participate in discussions.  You become a member of a list-serve by subscribing to the list.  To subscribe, you send an email to the list-serve moderator asking to become a member of the list.  In some online courses this is the method that students and instructor use to communicate with one another.

Discussion Boards or Forums, Bulletin Boards, or Threaded Discussions are used for threaded class discussion.  Sometimes the instructor begins a thread or topic and sometimes students are required to begin the thread.  This provides everyone in the course the opportunity to write their ideas and read the work of others in the course.  Some instructors require students to submit their class assignments to the discussion board with the expectation that students will read each others' work.  Some instructors use discussion board posting as an opportunity for students to summarize and reflect on what they have learned.  It is frequently expected that students will collaborate on assignments using special areas set aside for their group on the discussion board.

Email is used in online courses for

  • individual students to communicate privately with one another
  • for the instructor to communicate privately with individual students or publicly with the whole class
  • for students to communicate privately with the instructor.

It has the advantage of being slightly more intrusive than posting to a list-serve or a discussion board because the message is there whenever the person opens her or his mailbox.

Chat provides the opportunity for people to communicate in real time or synchronously.  Some instructors use this tool as way for students to get to know each other in a more "social" environment.  Other instructors use it for live office hours, tutoring sessions, or class discussion.  Synchronous discussion can be somewhat chaotic unless the instructor develops protocols for moderating the discussion. In this environment it is particularly important to keep your communication concise.  Very few people can write as fast as they think or talk. That difference becomes most apparent as you participate in a chat session.  Emerging technologies that include voice and video with the chat function are making this a more educationally useful tool.

White Boards  are used to communicate in real time using graphic interpretations across the Internet.  The use of whiteboards are particularly useful during a chat session.

Web Pages are used in online courses not only to deliver course materials, but also by students to complete assignments and communicate with one another over the Internet.  Some are simply documents developed in a word processing document and saved as HTML.  Others are sophisticated projects that may have been created in a HTML editor like Dreamweaver or FrontPage and include graphics, animation, hyperlinks, and other interactive devices.   These projects are then posted on the Internet for class members to view. 


 Content Manager: Anita Crawley

Questions: Germantownn | Rockville | SilverSpring/Takoma Park
Last Updated: July 27, 2006